Michele Waldman was born in New Zealand but spent much of her childhood in Australia. Filled with wildlife, birds, and nature, Australia provided the perfect backdrop to learn and develop a deep respect for nature.
When her parents divorced, she was only three years old. At this time, animals seemed to make more sense to her than humans; forced to contend with the instability of moving every 18 months, her dogs and cats became reliable sources of comfort and love for her.
At the age of eight, she and her family moved to Los Angeles, California. Although she returned to Australia for two months out of each year, Michele definitely missed having access to that nature-filled habitat year round.
“I have always loved animals…they were a safe haven for me.”
As a young child, Michele had already associated animals with unconditional love, stability, and comfort. This would prove to be a worthy stage for what was to come.
Even though Michele had established a strong emotional connection with animals, she was still eating them. Like most of us, she was innocently unaware of the incongruencies of her emotional ties and her eating philosophies.
During her studentship at UC Berkeley, while walking near campus, she remembers passing a group of people who represented PeTA. They were carrying large photos of factory farmed pigs. She recalls stopping cold in her tracks and asking them to explain what she saw.
The volunteers responded by showing her the gestation crates at the factory farms and enlightened her about pigs shedding tears and explained how smart they are.
Michele recalls she felt her life force being sucked out of her being. In an instant, all she believed to be good and true in the world suddenly seemed to disappear.
She felt horrible, and she never ate pork again.
“I am ashamed to admit that bacon was actually one of my favorite foods growing up – raw bacon. So disgusting! I used to sneak it from our family fridge. I am horrified that I ever did that. I will spend the rest of my life trying to make up for that.”
For the most part, Michele adopted a vegetarian diet at that time, admitting she struggled with it on and off over the years. At that point, cheese was about 40% of her diet. She was a typical vegetarian who said, ”I just can’t ever give up cheese. I ate cheese the way people ate apples.”
Michele says other than what she saw that day, she didn’t make an effort to learn about other animal abuses. She admits, she didn’t really make the connection between meat and all animals in a real way until later in life.
It wasn’t until Michele researched videos which uncovered the truths about the dairy industry and drop calves that she gave up dairy completely. (“drop calves” are baby cows, separated from their mothers at birth, since they would compete with dairy farmers for their mother’s milk, and they bring no profit; therefore, they are an unnecessary cost to the industry.)
On the career front, Michele was drawn to psychology, having her own personal healing journey, resulting from her having suffered abuse (from someone outside of her family) as a child, which resulted in PTSD until her late forties.
As a therapist, Michele has been able to utilize that childhood trauma, transmuting it into a well-tuned instrument to help others. Her highly attuned sensitivity makes her the perfect measuring tool for the trauma both we and the animals battle with everyday.
Understanding trauma’s cause and effects, to the core, helps her work with her clients.
Like so many people, the majority of Michele’s clients suffer from PTSD or treatment-resistant depression. Her personal experience makes her acutely aware of the suffering of others, including (and maybe especially) animals.
“Talk about abuse: we lock animals in cages, sexually abuse them through forced impregnation, steal their children, take their milk, kill them for their flesh and their fur. It’s an onslaught of abuse and an ocean of suffering.”
Michele teaches her clients about the layers of trauma within and without. She speaks about animals and compassion for all beings.
As a medical professional Michele explains, trauma is not uncommon, but healing from trauma is. Healing is a privilege which comes with a responsibility to not cause more trauma in this world.
Michele goes on to explain, “In the end, it is about love…unconditional love and care. I am that way with my clients and I am that way with my animals.”
A Family Affair
As a mother, Michele now interacts with her family with the same compassion and respect.
At the beginning, Michele’s veganism caused a great deal of tension in her marriage as she felt hurt and angry that her husband would consume animal products. I think many of us can say we have found ourselves in this very same predicament.
After Michele and her husband discussed it, she realized that he felt judged by her. It was when she pulled back and took a teach-by-example approach, respecting her husband’s process, that he transitioned to veganism…“With a little help from The Game Changers, of course.”
Her twelve-year-old son Benjamin has been vegan for close to four years now and has already been involved in rescuing two dairy calves. “He is a natural animal activist,” Michele says. “He was the one who then encouraged me to stop eating eggs. I couldn’t bear to eat an egg in front of him. He looked so disappointed in me. I wish I had become vegan in my teens…but I really didn’t know the truth about eggs or dairy. Once I got it though…I really got it.”
Michele’s oldest son, Sam, is not vegan, and they have had some pretty painful conflicts between them as a result. At one point, Michele realized her relationship with Sam was suffering immensely. He felt she wasn’t respecting his choices. It was causing a serious strain between them. They eventually found a middle ground. She does not cook any meat, but he has his own Uber Eats account. Michele makes a concerted effort not to make snide remarks about his choice to eat meat.
Recently, Sam has been coming around and, similar to her realization with her husband, she is allowing Sam to move at his own pace.
What Dreams May Come
About four years ago, Michele had a beautiful dream. She saw herself bringing animals to the elementary school her two sons attended.
About a year later, she had another dream where she saw herself standing on a hill looking down at an animal sanctuary. Knowingly, she was looking into her future; she went on to say she saw animals, trees, birds and rolling fields.
Despite the millions of marketing dollars spent by the meat industry, Michele began to learn how farmed animals are really treated. She recalls having nightmares and sinking into a depression after forcing herself to watch some horrific undercover videos.
As a psychotherapist, Michele posed a question to herself, “What would I say to my client if they were experiencing this?” This line of thought would later allow her to come to a realization. As part of her healing process, she would need to take action and exercise advocacy.
Michele started donating money to various animal organizations. She took her youngest son on a tour of local sanctuaries. “I wanted to see advocacy in action…and to teach my son that WE can do something positive in the world,” explains Michele. She then began volunteering at the same sanctuaries, taking part in rescuing two cows herself.
All this while nestled in the back of her mind was the memory of the dream she had had.
At this time, she had no idea how the dream would come into fruition, but she believed it would happen some way or another.
In 2019, Michele was volunteering for two animal sanctuaries in California, including participating in the rescue of two dairy industry calves. This was clearly taking a toll on her psyche.
Although Michele was learning a great deal about animal welfare, at the same turn she was deeply troubled by the nightmares of caged animals she was having regularly.
She decided she would open a sanctuary one day. She proposed a 20-year plan for herself.
While seeking refuge in some joyful animal rescue videos, she stumbled upon the founder of Destination Liberation. Enter Jason Bolalek.
In 2018 Jason moved to Vermont, a state that is predominantly small dairy farm communities. His move was meant to get him involved in the hemp industry, which he did. He also found himself face-to-face with the reality of the dairy industry and dairy production. It was activism videos that helped him choose vegetarianism, but when he entered his first dairy farm to meet with a farmer about possibly rescuing a baby boy, Jason walked out of that farm vegan. “That was it for me; it all made sense,” said Jason.
Since then, seen on The Dodo as well as all over social media, Jason is responsible for the rescue of almost 100 dairy calves that were otherwise bound for slaughter.
“I share the videos of all my rescues to personalize the animals, who have been intentionally disconnected from the public by the industries of animal agriculture.” ~ Jason Bolalek
So taken with his rescue work, Michele messaged Jason on Facebook to thank him for his work. She told him she had wanted to open a sanctuary ‘one day’ and hoped he would help her find some dairy calves.
The two began texting back and forth, neither of them knowing how quickly their friendship would evolve. They talked conceptually about a sanctuary someday in the future and how they would love to collaborate on some level.
Michele had been volunteering at two sanctuaries in California in 2020 when the Lightning Complex Fires happened. One of the sanctuaries had to evacuate at 3 :00 am. They weren’t initially able to get all the animals out. Michele was part of a group who waited ‘till the next morning for the Fire Marshalls to return to give them the okay to head back into the sanctuary.
Luckily all the animals were safe and accounted for. Michele put a mother goat and her three kids in the back of her car and took them to another sanctuary where they would be safe. She set up a GoFundMe page for the sanctuary and was incredibly pleased at how quickly people donated to help.
After seeing the devastation of these fires, Michele knew she couldn’t open a sanctuary in California. It was at that time that she and her husband decided to move to Maryland.
One year later, Michele was reaching out to Jason to inform him she had moved to Maryland, bought property for a sanctuary, and was looking for a sanctuary manager.
They spoke by phone that same night, making plans for Jason to visit the property and meet in person. Once they met and spoke directly, there was never any question. They realized then that it was meant to be.
Jason has since moved to Maryland and has now accepted the position of sanctuary director at the brand new Rosie’s Farm Sanctuary.
The sanctuary is situated in a residential neighborhood, which is the point. When Michele first envisioned Rosie’s, she envisioned the community being part of the sanctuary: families, schools, volunteers, interns, etc.
Located in Potomac, Maryland – just 25 minutes outside of Washington DC, Rosie’s is only a five-acre sanctuary…but it is right in the midst of a neighborhood where everyone and anyone can come and meet the animals.
Rosie’s has come with a few existing residents – two elderly mini horses, two elderly sheep, and eight hens. They had their first rescue of four goats two months ago. Michele considers it a pretty incredible experience. They heard there was a small backyard dairy willing to release two goats.
“Interestingly, Rosie’s is on a hill and there is a spot at the sanctuary that looks exactly like the image I had in my dream.”
Michele drove over to the dairy farm in her ‘mom-car’ with her youngest son, Benjamin and Jason. The dairy farm was sending some goats to auction the next day, and they managed to convince them to let them take four of them. They actually put the goats in the back of Michele’s SUV. Michele says this was exhilarating for everyone involved.
Rosie’s is now preparing to rescue two calves from two different dairies in Vermont. They are waiting for them to be born.
Although Rosie’s official launch date was a mere three months ago, the plan is to have animals from most industries where they are exploited and have animals serve as ambassadors for their species, using social media to extend their reach with the help of webcams and educational videos.
According to Jason, Rosie’s will advocate for equality and diversity in the movement by connecting with community organizers and also educate people on actual policies, motivating people to take political action.
In addition, Rosie’s is also a lavender farm. The plan is to sell products derived from their lavender as well as their seasonal vegetables in the shop. Next year they plan to have a pumpkin patch where people can come and select a pumpkin for Halloween and also donate a pumpkin to the pigs and cows.
Although Rosie’s is a small sanctuary they have big plans. They plan to make the most out of the finite amount of room they have for their resident animals.
Of course, utilizing Jason’s experience transporting and placing cows will provide a turnkey and ongoing foster and placement program. For this, it is very important to maintain a network of communication with other sanctuaries as well as animal-loving people with land.
Fear vs. Love
Admittingly, when Michele decided to buy the property for the sanctuary, she felt overwhelmed and filled with fear that it was going to be too much. She recalled what someone incredibly wise had said to her years prior. “Who are you dreaming with?” “That question really impacted me at the time,” adds Michele.
After contemplating opening the sanctuary, Michele realized that Rosie’s will be a part of other people’s dreams as well. “I don’t have to do it all,” explains Michele. “I just have to do my part….and find people who are sharing the same dream and have their part to play.”
Since Michele’s decision to take the plunge and follow her heart, the team has been working to establish connections within the community. We have felt very supported, says Michele. Sarah Rose Attman, founder of Sarah Rose Public Relations, has agreed to work with Rosie’s pro bono to help raise awareness.
Michele and Jason are creating a special model, one that will serve the public but also funnel money into the sanctuary itself. The team is looking forward to hosting all types of events, including art exhibits, fundraisers, movie nights, and food tasting gatherings. They also want to help provide resources and manpower to community organizers working with disadvantaged communities.
Located right outside Washington DC, they are open to animal organizations and nonprofits using the property. They also plan to offer tours for the public and schools. They are already receiving requests from Girl Scout Troops and media outlets.
Michele’s advice to anyone who is thinking about getting involved with a sanctuary or one day opening one:
“Volunteer at a sanctuary first. Rescuing animals is profoundly rewarding, but there is much more to running a sanctuary. I think it is important to spend time working at a sanctuary and getting to experience all the less-romantic sides of sanctuary life, just to make sure you really want to do it.
“I would also say that sanctuaries don’t need to be on 50 acres. Micro-sanctuaries can be just as impactful and far more cost effective. I would encourage people to consider opening a sanctuary on one-to-five acres. Even backyard sanctuaries can make a difference. One of the sweetest sanctuaries I have ever seen was on a one-acre property. They specialize in taking in foster animals.”
An eNewsletter is in the works. Right now you can reach out to the sanctuary at [email protected] to volunteer or show support in any way.
To donate go to rosiesfarmsanctuary.org and hit that donate button. They also accept Paypal and Venmo @rosiesfarmsanctuary
Mickey (picture on left) born on Friday, June 24th, Moose (picture on right) and their extraordinary mother Maggie May will soon be brought to Rosie’s where they will live their best lives at the Sanctuary. Inquire about a visit here.